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2021-10-24 Sermon

Mark 12:41-44

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   The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good. Pro 15:3

  How often to you meditate on the omniscience and omnipresence of our Lord? How often do you consider the fact that, as the Psalmists says, whether we go to the highest heights or the lowest depths, God is there? Nothing we do escapes his notice. Nothing we think or feel escapes his notice. That is at the same time both a terrifying truth and a comforting truth. It’s a truth that we see applied in this familiar account of the widow’s offering.

  After Jesus answered the questions designed to trick him into saying something unpopular or illegal, the questions about the resurrection and about paying taxes, Jesus sat down opposite the offering box and was watching how the crowd put money into it.

  As he watched, what did he see? As a true human being he saw what anyone else could see. He saw many rich people putting large amounts into the offering box. And considering what Jesus said about the Pharisees in other places, about praying on the street corners and seeking the best seats in the synagogue, it’s not a stretch to think that at least some of these rich people made a show of their large offerings. They wanted people to notice and to look up to them as great benefactors.

  He also saw a poor widow make an offering, a very small offering, just two bronze coins worth 1/64 of a common day’s wage. It’s doubtful that she made any kind of show of her offering. In fact, we might picture her doing what many still do today, hiding the offering in their hand and quietly dropping it in so that no one can tell what they gave.

  As Jesus watched the people giving their offerings what did he see? As true God he saw a lot more than any of us could ever see. As true God he knew exactly how much each person had, just as he knows today how much each of us has in the bank, in retirement accounts, in buildings and machinery and vehicles. He knows our net worth better than we do. He saw that many of the rich who were giving large gifts were giving out of their wealth, their surplus. It was a small amount compared to all that they had. They gave knowing that they had plenty left over to take care of their needs and many of their wants as well.

  He also saw that this widow, who gave probably the smallest offering of the day, the only offering that could have been smaller would have been just one bronze coin, gave in greater proportion than everyone else. Jesus tells the disciples, she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” She gave even though she didn’t know how she was going to pay for her next meal. She gave knowing that she didn’t have anything left over to care for her needs much less her wants.

   Was she putting God to the test? Was she being foolish, practicing poor stewardship because now she might be dependent on others to support her?

  We might think that would be true, but then why would Jesus point her out to the disciples and to us and everyone who would read this account as a good example? What did Jesus see that we can’t?

  He didn’t just see the amount people deposited. He didn’t just know what proportion those offerings were of people’s net worth. He saw the heart. He saw whether or not those offerings were like the offering of Cain, given out of a sense of obligation, or like Abel’s, given from a heart filled with joy and thanksgiving, a heart filled with trust and a desire to honor God, a heart that was more focused on heavenly treasure than anything earthly.

  If the widow had given all she had thinking that she would now earn something from God by what she did, she would be putting God to the test. She would have been like those who say, “because I give so much to the church and do so much work at the church God will surely make me rich.” She would have been like those who say, “I don’t have to work, God has promised to provide for my needs.” Whenever we expect God to do something for us because of what we have done for him we are putting him to the test, we are sinning. Anytime we expect God to do something he has not promised to do, we are putting him to the test.

  On the other hand, if God does give us a promise, we can trust that we will keep his promise, in fact we can hold him to his promise.  What promise of God might this poor widow have trusted as she gave all that she had?

  The words of God through Malachi come to mind.  After accusing his people of robbing him by putting themselves first and bringing him leftovers, God says bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.

  Isn’t that amazing? In this one area, in the area of giving, God says it’s okay to put him to the test. He challenges us to put him first, to bring him our first and our best, and experience for ourselves that he will keep his promise to provide for our needs in ways we might never have imagined. Jesus could see what was in this poor widow’s heart. The fact that he held her up as an example for all time indicates that she was seeking God’s kingdom first and trusting that the other things, her needs, would be added as well.

  Jesus doesn’t tell us what happened to this poor widow. But we do know what happened to the widow of Zarephath. When she did what Elijah told her and used her last bit of flour and oil to make him food, as he promised, the oil and flour never ran out as long as the famine lasted. God says, My eyes will watch over them for their good.

  That’s the other side of God’s omniscience and omnipresence. Yes, he knows everything about us. He sees everything we do and knows every thought we have. No sin we commit escapes his notice. He knows when we have given him leftovers. He knows when we have tried to manipulate him, giving with the expectation of getting in return. He knows when we have failed to trust him to provide and used the excuse that we can’t give because then we couldn’t have or do something we thought we needed. Yes, he is still watching people as they give their offerings today. But the other side of his omniscience and omnipresence is that he knows how to forgive us, and he knows ways of providing for our needs that we could never imagine possible.

  When the fact that Jesus is watching us as we give our offerings fills us with guilt, Jesus points us to the cross. At the cross we hear him pray for us, Father forgive them. At the cross we hear him proclaim, It is finished. At the cross we see that all our sins, our greed, our lack of trust, our failure to put God first, all our sins have been paid for in full. There is no condemnation for us because Jesus took our condemnation on himself.

  Also at the cross we see that Jesus knows how to provide for those who trust in him. Even while he was suffering intensely, when no one would have blamed him for thinking only of himself, he spoke to John and asked him to provide for a widow, for his mother Mary.

  Jesus gave us all he had. He lived a perfect life in our place so that he could give himself as the only sacrifice that could pay for the sins of the world. Now, Paul says, in view of his mercy, in view of what he has done for us, we can joyfully offer ourselves to him. We can say to him, “all that I am and everything I have is yours, Lord. I’m putting everything I am and everything I have into your service as I trust you to provide me with all that I need in life, and eternal life in heaven.

  That’s the attitude Jesus must have seen in the heart of the poor widow who gave her last two coins. That’s the attitude we heard Paul praise in the Macedonians. And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.  Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.  For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.  And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.

  As we consider God’s mercy to us in Jesus, may the same be said of us.